Travis Jordan Fischer first encountered racing watching his father race karts in his native USA. Aged ten Fischer got behind the wheel of a kart himself, igniting a racing career which would win out against American Football and bring ‘TJ’ to our shores. Fischer played wide receiver at both high school and the ultra-competitive college level in Northern California before turning his attention to his studies into business management and a fearsome training regimen.
Over the pond he has a list of success to his name. The 2013 Formula Car Challenge National Championship and both the Formula Car and SCCA Majors Western Challenges fell to TJ Fischer. 17 race wins from 18 starts and ten consecutive victories highlighted his US racing career.
2014 saw Fischer team up with French Canadian Patrick Dassault at the Cliff Dempsey Racing team for his debut season in European racing. Protyre Formula Renault isn’t an easy championship to win and at Silverstone, halfway through a two year planned campaign in the championship, The Checkered Flag took him to one side to discuss the challenges, and the differences between the US of A and the UK.
TCF: Coming over to the UK, I’m guessing Silverstone is the circuit you know best. Is it what you expected?
TJ: “Driving on an F1 circuit like Silverstone is amazing, the facilities alone are huge. It’s just what I expected but a lot more. Everyone is saying, ‘You know there is going to be a ton of people here,’ and I’m like ‘but Formula Renault isn’t that big’. Then you come here and it’s like, ‘this is the big show’. Obviously Silverstone is the biggest race weekend so we want to do well.”
TCF: How would you assess your season so far, coming over from the states?
TJ: “The racing for sure is the biggest part and it’s very competitive. The times are very close and the guys up front, the second year runners, are really fast. So catching up to them was a task.
The beginning was more of a learning experience. I got into a few incidents learning the racecraft over here is a big thing too. It’s different over here. Mostly it’s the blocking rule, you can block over here and I like it! It was a change because in the US you basically have to let them by if they are on the inside but here you have to defend, defend, defend, its great in that way.
It was kind of up and down, we had a few incidents. It was learning the standing starts as well, I had never done that before.
Now, like halfway through and coming towards the end it’s starting to come along and I’m starting to get quicker. Bringing the second year guys closer to us, beating some of the second year guys like we did at Snetterton. It’s just constantly improving so hopefully the second year will be time to shine.”
A trying start to the year saw Fischer watching two of the first five races from the sidelines. A non-fault accident in the Deene hairpin at Rockingham put him out of the first race of the year, but not before he showed his determination. Five laps without a rear wing round the fast but technical ISSC layout demonstrated exceptional grit at least. Donington also bit hard, with a second DNF.
Other than that he has been remarkably consistent, with a string of sixths and sevenths improving to fifths and sixths by Snetterton and round nine of the championship.
TCF: What have been the highlights and low points of the season?
TJ: “I think Snetterton was good because we qualified well and it was consistent. Three fifths, but I had to defend hard in the third race, it was still a hard fought fifth. That was kind of the breakthrough weekend where all the hard work we had been putting in, we’ve been fast in testing. We needed to finally show it and we did.
Even at Croft, I qualified third in one of the races in the rain. We were hoping it was going to be wet for the race because we had a lot of pace. If I didn’t mess up my last lap I could have put it on pole so I was a bit disappointed about that. That was kind of a breakthrough as well.
The down was starting out at Rockingham. I had the DNF, then I got in another incident in the third race. Then at Donington I had a DNF and then in the third race I had some issues with the car. It was just struggling the first two rounds with the learning and the incidents. It was tough.”
TCF: I remember at the start of the year you said you were expecting a lot of rain. Is that something you came over here for because at Croft you did rather well in it?
TJ: “We were expecting rain because it’s England! You expect that. It’s crazy that we haven’t had a race in the wet yet, it’s all been dry. We are racing in England and it’s dry. I can tell you, I’m here for most of the week and it’s raining most of the time but it’s crazy that we haven’t had a race in the wet.
We have tested in the wet and had wet qualifying some of the time. We’ve shown that we can be quick and I’m learning in it still so it’s a great learning experience when it is wet, but we were hoping for a little bit more.”
Fischer is one of the lucky ones, rare is the Dario Franchitti, Mike Conway or Dan Wheldon who manages to crack the States as a racer from Europe. His nationality, and his pace, give him a shot at an eventual drive in the Verizon Indycar Series. We were interested to know what Fischer thought of the regimented ‘Road to Indy’ compared to the more free-form mix of Formula Ford, Formula Renault and Formula 3 options open on this side of the Atlantic.
TCF: We’ve spoke to a couple of guys that have raced in the UK and then gone to America so have their perspective, what’s the difference coming the other way?
TJ: “Over here I think it’s a bit more competitive. The drivers are all very good and the racing is very tight. Just to pass is, when you can block and you are so close in times, it’s hard to find an advantage to pass somebody. It’s completely different.
In the states it’s a bit more spread out, it’s not that fine edge of competitive if you know what I mean.”
TCF: There is a lot of talk about a single seater ladder. In the states they have the Road to Indy ladder where if you win the championship you get the scholarship to the next step, whereas over here there are many different championships with no direct link or prize to the next step. Which way is the best do you think?
TJ: “It’s tough to say, the Road to Indy has its merits because it’s a definitive ladder and you progress all the way up to Indy. You are racing on most of the same tracks as Indycar as well except for some of the ovals. The problem over there is that the budgets are so high to race. We found over here it’s not as expensive and the racing is a bit more competitive in places. I’m not saying that ProMazda or USF2000 isn’t competitive because it is but through the whole field everyone is very close.
I think racing over here for as long as I can, building that up and then going back to the states when I am ready and I have that level that I have peaked at over here. Then I can take that back to the states. I’m old, so F1 is out of reach so it’s Indycar.
Over here in Europe there is so much you can do, there are so many different series and they are all really good. With the Road to Indy ladder the only guy that gets the money is the guy that wins it. You can have a good driver who finishes third but he still has to find the budget to move upwards.”
Coming to the end of TJ’s first year in Protyre Formula Renault, it’s time to look back on the season. How does Fischer feel the first year of his European exploration has gone, and what is next?
TCF: Compare TJ Fischer to this time last year, how much do you feel you have progressed as a driver?
TJ: “I have learned a ton, especially racecraft, learning how to race in Europe is huge. Then pushing the envelope with the car, there is a lot I didn’t understand about the car. I didn’t know I could push as much. Coming here this year is about getting every tenth out of every corner, just being more confident with that has just boosted me up. I have more confidence every lap, every corner and it all adds up.”
TCF: Overall for the year, have you gotten everything you wanted to achieve?
TJ: “Well I really wanted a podium so we are still shooting for that. This weekend I am putting some pressure on myself because I want a podium. Here and there we have had the pace to do it but it’s putting it all together. I have reached many of my goals, I wanted a top five and I have been able to do that. Mainly it was to progress as a driver and I know am a better driver the end of this year than I was at the start of the year and I know I am.
We keep pushing and I’m sure that once we’ve got the podium we will be shooting for a win. You just keep pushing and pushing.”
TCF: What’s next? Are you sticking around in the UK?
TJ: “Hopefully, next year they are going with the new Eurocup car for this championship so that’s probably where the highest chance we will be doing that. Then I can build of the tracks I learned this year and just get better results than I am now, keep learning and progressing.
Or I could have the chance of going back to the states and doing something on the Road to Indy ladder. Or I could think about doing NEC too, it’s all about budget, what I think I can do and what I am ready for. We’ll see.”
Words by Nick Smith, Interview by Simon Paice.